Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2008
Equality Officer Decision
A Local Authority
Date of Issue 23 September 2009
Equal Status Acts - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Traveller Community ground, section 3(2)(i) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Application for a Housing Transfer
1 Delegation under the Equal Status Acts
This complaint was referred to the Director of the Equality Tribunal under the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2007. On 19 December 2008, in accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and under the Equal Status Acts, the Director delegated the complaint to myself, Brian O'Byrne, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Acts, 2000 - 2007.
The Hearing of this complaint was held on 17 June 2009 with further correspondence continuing until 17 July 2009.
This dispute concerns a complaint by a female member of the Traveller community that she was discriminated against on the Traveller community ground in not being granted a housing transfer by a Local Authority when she applied in 2006.
3 Summary of Hearing
3.1 The Hearing of this complaint was held on 17 June 2009. The Hearing was attended by the complainant, her representative and members of the Local Authority.
The complainant described how she had lived in the Local Authority area for many years with her husband and how they had been provided with several houses by the Local Authority over the years to accommodate their growing family needs. They were provided with their current house in 2001 to cater for themselves and 8 children.
At the Hearing, the complainant gave evidence about the marital problems that had arisen between herself and her husband since 2000 leading to her seeking shelter in the Women's Refuge on many occasions since 2002 eventually leading to her having to obtain a barring order against him in the courts in 2006. She said that the barring order did little to alleviate her position as her husband had many relatives in the estate and constantly visited them, during which time he continued to bother and intimidate her. She said that her health started to deteriorate around that time resulting in her developing a heart condition and glaucoma.
In an effort to resolve the problems she was having, she applied for a housing transfer in 2006 claiming that her children were being bullied and that drinking and drug dealing were going on outside her house. She made no reference to her domestic situation in the application which she submitted in the names of both herself and her husband.
The Local Authority gave evidence that they always adhere to a specific Scheme of Letting Priorities drawn up in accordance with the Housing Acts when considering transfer requests. The three main criteria are overcrowding, medical grounds and compassionate grounds. As the family did not qualify on any of these grounds, based on the information supplied at the time, the application was refused in 2006.
In May 2007, the complainant states that, in an attempt to reactivate her transfer application, she met with a Council Official and explained to him about her domestic situation. The official told her that the barring order was a "civil matter" for the Gardai and that, even if she got a transfer within the Local Authority area, that experience has shown that it was unlikely to improve her domestic situation. At the Hearing, the official concerned explained that in 2007 the complainant's family was already housed in the largest accommodation available in the area and that there was no viable alternative property available at the time.
4 Conclusions of the Equality Officer
4.1 In cases such as this, the burden of proof lies with the complainant who, in order to demonstrate that a prima facie case of discrimination exists, must establish facts from which it may be presumed that prohibited conduct has occurred. On establishment of these facts, the burden of proof then shifts to the respondent who, in order to successfully defend his case, must show that his actions were driven by factors which were non-discriminatory.
4.2 In the case before me, the complainant maintains that she was discriminated against by the Local Authority when she was refused a housing transfer in 2006 and again in 2007 when she approached the Local Authority official regarding the matter.
In considering the evidence before me, I note that the Local Authority says that it adheres to a strict Scheme of Letting Priorities drawn up in accordance with the Housing Acts when considering transfer requests. The three main criteria are overcrowding, medical grounds and compassionate grounds. For her part, the complainant has confirmed that she did not make reference to her medical or domestic problems in submitting her application.
Based on the above, I am satisfied that in 2006 the Local Authority acted in accordance with its stated criteria in finding that the complainant's circumstances, as outlined on the application form, did not warrant a transfer under their Scheme of Letting Priorities. With regard to the meeting with Local Authority officials in May 2007, while discussions did take place with regard to the complainant's changed family circumstances, I note that no fresh written application was made in the complainant's own name at that point to warrant a re-evaluation of her situation.
Accordingly, while the complainant's current circumstances may warrant a reappraisal of her housing needs, I consider that in 2006 and 2007 the Local Authority acted fairly in basing their deliberations on the information contained in the original transfer application and did not discriminate against the complainant in considering that application.
I find that a prima facie case has not been established on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2008. Accordingly, I find in favour of the respondents in the matter.
23 September 2009